Despite a relatively quiet summer filled with rosé-fueled long weekends in the Hamptons, there’s growing unrest in the corridors of Condé Nast. Following a fairly sizable reorganization at the hands of Jim Norton, the new chief business officer and president of revenue, there are rumors that another restructuring is on the way.
Although tweaks are common following foundational changes, there is said to be growing frustration around Norton, who occupies a position with a high turnover rate. (In previous years, a version of his role was held by Richard Beckman, Lou Cona and Edward Menicheschi, all of whom subsequently departed the company.)
Sources told WWD that Norton’s knowledge of the business — that being one steeped in fashion, beauty and luxury — is lacking, which is problematic. Providing further grist to the mill are a few “episodes” at company events — the most infamous being Vanity Fair’s Oscar party — during which Norton became a little too exuberant, causing Condé staffers to whisper about the former AOL executive’s future.
Condé Nast did not comment on those rumors, but a spokesman confirmed that more changes would follow Norton’s larger reorganization. He pointed to the executive’s post-reorganization memo, which was circulated to staff in April.
“When we embarked on this journey to transform Condé Nast into a more modern media company able to meet the changing demands of our audiences and clients, we said it would be a process and not a single point in time,” Norton wrote then. “However, today we have reached a major milestone in that process as we go live with our new business structure…Condé Nast One.”
The reorganization changed the original structure of one publisher per magazine title and instituted more of a group-publishing model, in which “chief business officers” would oversee multiple magazines. (The New Yorker and Vogue would retain the old single-publisher model). Certain publishers were also elevated to sell across categories, such as luxury or beauty, and were given the spiffy title of chief industry officer. The changes largely decentralized the advertising selling structure to accommodate a multichannel selling strategy.
Sources have expressed aggravation with that model, however, and have criticized Norton, noting that Condé Nast has yet to land any “meaningful deals” since the changes took effect.
Others noted that Norton, who started late last year, hasn’t been given enough time to execute his plan and that there’s still ample opportunity to right the ship. Although the structure was announced in January, it has only been in place for about four months.
Since April, Norton has alluded to a second round of tweaks in his team meetings and, according to insiders, that will likely translate into a slight shift in power back to the individual magazine brands or to chief business officers from the chief industry officers.
While those moves may help rectify some frustration within the corridors of One World Trade, there are larger concerns at the publishing company related to whether chief executive officer Bob Sauerberg has the right strategy and people in place to lead the company to thrive in this tumultuous environment. Then again, those concerns are far from unique to Condé Nast, and are instead symptomatic of bigger shifts in the media landscape.
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